blogging, books

Book Bloggers Do’s and Don’t’s

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Not that there are actual rules (nobody panic). (Unless you’re doing something I expressly put on the list of don’t’s. Then wallow in your shame and change your ways.)

No, kidding. But being a book blogger is in fact much harder than many people realize; so here are some tips to help you survive the online jungle, and successfully continue your endeavors for sharing your love of reading.

DO read what you like, and post what you want to. There are few things more frustrating for a bookdragon than feeling compelled to read books they simply have no interest in, just because “everybody else is reading it.” There’s nothing wrong in sticking to your favorite genres. Only write reviews if that’s your preference. Or only post discussions. Whatever — it’s your blog, and most of us are not being paid to do this, so what’s the point of not enjoying it?

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DON’T turn your comments section into Confrontation Central. Yes, you have every right to express your opinion. So do those who comment on your blog. Even if it doesn’t match up with yours. The trick is to maintain a presence that keeps yourself and your readers comfortable. Most people who didn’t like a certain author/series will just say so nicely, and not mind if you loved the minature pandas out of it. If you feel somebody’s really getting out of hand, though, probably the best thing to do is just ignore it, or block it (I mean literally, via technology).

Also, know how much disagreeing is too much for you. If “Mysteries are so retardedly boring, I don’t know how anybody with half a brain cell can read them” honestly doesn’t bother you, then don’t draw the line there. But if you’d really prefer people to stick to, “This one just wasn’t my thing, thanks,” then don’t be afraid to lay down the law. Again, it is your blog, and ultimately your decision.

DO visit other blogs. Especially when you find another blogger who reads a lot of the same stuff you do. Not only can you find some great new authors this way, you build online relationships that may become important and lasting.

DON’T do the “follow for follow” thing. If you really like someone’s content and want to subscribe to their blog, please go ahead. But subscribing only with the hopes that they’ll do the same for you is kind of like only sending forwards of crude jokes to your distant relatives. Most of us do end up following each other, because we build friendships through our common interests. That’s the ultimate hope for a lot of us, not to have 10,000 subscribers (9,000 of which may not even read our posts).

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DO give your honest opinions about books. Yes, I really mean that. And “honest” does not mean the same as “cruel and unusual ways of expressing your personal dislike of a specific novel.”

Of course, it is your blog, and ultimately your decision on how negative is too negative. But personally, as an author myself, I would feel really horrible if I read a review that basically told me to go jump off a bridge (including gory details of what it would look like after I hit bottom), simply because the person didn’t enjoy my book. That’s where I get my guideline from. Tactfully saying, “I just felt this was too dull and I couldn’t relate to the characters since they all seemed not to care that they hurt the old lady’s feelings,” can make the difference between losing and gaining respect among your fellow bookdragons/authors.

DON’T worry about doing ARCs. Now, I may feel a little blue in the face, because this is a topic I’ve covered a lot lately, but it bears repeating. ARC stands for Advanced Reader Copy, and is a free edition of an impending release, sent either by the author or the publisher, in the hopes of getting lots of reviews out before the sale date. Many book bloggers feel becoming someone who gets all the coveted ARCs is the Holy Grail of this venture. However, there are a lot of downsides to having to read a book you may not even like, on a deadline, and needing to post a review that other people are going to make a big deal of. My advice is don’t sweat getting approved for ARCs if it sounds like your seventh circle of hell.

DO become as engaged as you want to be. Jump on the bandwagon for tags if you think they’re really fun. Start accounts on Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, and Pinterest if it makes your little heart flutter with joy. Sign up for blog tours, guest posts (writing and receiving), host giveaways.

And also, never be afraid to step back and disconnect from certain platforms or activities when you know it’s simply overwhelming you.

Remember, all of this only works if you’re truly happy with it.

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books, writing

How to Write Your Book Like a Movie

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No, not literally like a movie — sorry, guys, if you want screenplay/script writing advice, this isn’t that post.

I mean: When you write your novel, it really helps to have ongoing visuals happening simultaneously in your mind’s eye. Description is important — but it’s also important to descript in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your readers.

As not just a writer but a reader myself, I’ve come across more than my fair share of novels that simply felt far too wordy. And as a writer, I try really hard to avoid typical problems that readers moan over.

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One of those is 17 paragraphs in a row that use 9-syllable adjectives to sum up: “The marketplace sat in the middle of the town square, lit by gas-fueled streetlights and filled with vendors selling baked goods and weapons.”

A method I employ to hopefully set the scene without releasing a plague of purple prose is imagining each chapter in my novel as the film version. I think about what the characters are doing (body language, facial expressions, physical actions), the tone of their voices, what they’re wearing (even if I don’t mention it in the text), what building/room/outside setting they’re in, how that looks (again, not necessarily telling the reader every tiny detail).

This really helps engage my effort and passion for the story. Writing is work, whether we want to admit it or not. And if we want others to read it and enjoy it (not simply to pay us, either), we should do our best to ensure our product is realistic.

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When you watch a movie, all the relevant information is straight there on the screen. The directors make sure that you get a sense of what’s happening in that moment by including not just the major stuff (like trees if the characters are in a forest), but little touches (like a child’s drawings on the refrigerator door of a grandmother’s kitchen).

Thinking about stuff like that when you’re writing can add a great deal to your story.

Remember, though, going overboard isn’t great. Finding the balance is key.

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Here’s an actual example from Masters and Beginners: “It wasn’t a dark and stormy night. It was a pleasant late summer’s evening, shortly after sunset, the sky a rich navy
blue, stars beginning to twinkle in the distance. In a pleasant subdivision, residents were settling in for the night. In a tent pitched on one of the well-mowed lawns was a group of
four teenage girls, in their pajamas and sleeping bags, currently finding out who could come up with the scariest scary story.”

I don’t need to go into which day of the week it is, exactly what hour and minute, the color of each girl’s pajamas, and the average square footage of the houses in the subdivision.

However, if I had only written, “There was a tent in a backyard and 4 girls were having a sleepover,” it might not be enough to give the reader a proper idea of what’s going on.

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Good movies rely on the “show don’t tell” guideline of entertainment. I don’t mean never revealing the vital plot points directly to the audience. But revealing small clues through the discreet look one character gives another, a letter that someone reads but doesn’t put in front of the camera, the shot that pans around to the vase that was supposedly broken after the owner has left the room. You get the idea.

This is an excellent tip for writers of any medium. Personally, I love it. And I love reading novels that use it, too.

Hope this helps some of you struggling with description and balance. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

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blogging, books

Being a Book Blogger is Harder Than it Looks

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Yes, it really is. Having a book blog isn’t simply read a book, write a review, find some cute gifs, post it and make sure the link uploads to your social media. It is actually much more complicated than that.

Deciding which book to review can be impossible. If you read a lot — which most of us bookdragons do — you won’t have only one finished selection to choose at the end of the week. Plus, there’s absolutely no rule that says the next review you write has to be of something you just read. We’d also like to discuss childhood favorites, assigned classics, and movie novelizations. Unless there’s an ARC that you know you should post soon (because the release date was May 31st and it’s presently June 4th), the best way may just be to flip a coin or throw a dart at a printout of a bookstore flyer.

Let’s talk about ARCs for a minute. They are not all they’re cracked up to be. Yes, it is exciting when you get to be one of the first people to read a new release you’re really excited for. (I do enjoy this part myself.) However, there are also some downsides to ARCs that I think are worth discussing.

They’re time-consuming. It can be difficult to read on a deadline. What if your schedule gets turned upside down and finishing the ARC prior to its sale date just isn’t a possibility?

They may be disappointing. Those bloggers who have been getting ARCs for a couple years now will tell you that just because a book is an advanced reader does not mean it will be the most amazing literary thing ever.

You can feel like you’re reading out of pure obligation, rather than for enjoyment. I know some bloggers have in fact decided to stop requesting ARCs, because it was dampening their experiences too much.

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Striking the right tone is key, and not automatic. Hands up — who here has typed a paragraph of a post, deleted it, repeated this process, and again…and considered throwing yourself off the top of your bookshelves. It is hard to keep producing content that’s interesting, engaging, humorous, insightful, and doesn’t cover the same 14 books over and over.

What happens if your TBR has done away with itself? This actually happened to me. About 8 months ago, I had a TBR that I anticipated would take me the whole year to complete. How wrong could I have been. I finished it somewhere around 6 weeks ago, and am struggling to build up the next. What am I going to blog about?! I feel like screaming from the rooftops.

You hit a reading/posting slump. Your usual genres have become mehhhh. Your favorite authors have swanned off to Costa Rica for a 700-day hiatus. You don’t feel like posting on that fashion magazine you devoured at the doctor’s office out of sad desperation. Send. Help.

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Blogging takes more time than a TARDIS can provide. Oh, the number of instances in which I have begged for a time machine to add 5 hours to my day. After you’ve created the post, searched for images, added said images, re-thought some of the text, edited, changed some of those images, and double checked your facts on book details, you are effectively dead, and only have about 45 minutes in which to clean your house, cook dinner, feed the cat, give the kids a bath, and turn in overdue library DVDs.

Sometimes getting that post up is Mission Impossible. You’re halfway through writing your review, and the kids have devastated the couch. The cat just couldn’t keep that hairball in any longer. Your family informs you the inside of the fridge resembles an uninhabited cave.

Or you realize you just don’t know what to say about that book.

Mixed feelings do not for a comprehensive post make. Haven’t we all finished a novel or biography and just thought, “Well…wow. Huh?!” There were parts of the story you liked, and others that made about as much sense as a peregrine falcon becoming a ballerina, so your overall impression can be summed up this way: !@$#%^&*?! But your subscribers would really prefer: “I liked the character growth between Samuel and Bonita in the early chapters, but once Bonita decided to run away to Hong Kong to raise minature pandas, I felt the forward momentum was lost.”

And there are days when you just cannot form those words.

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books, community, reading

Life Hacks for Bookdragons

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So, you are a bookdragon. You take pride in this (as well you should). But after you embark on this life, you realize there are some things that could be problematic — for example, running out of shelf space, losing your bookmarks, or not having the budget to acquire all of the books. Well, today we are here to save your precious little overwraught selves with some tips to quell the quandaries.

How to not run out of shelf space. Having a designated bookcase (a pre-built, independent piece of furniture) is extremely helpful. But, if you collect several new books a year, they’ll fill up pretty quickly. So it may work better for you to have shelves that can be placed on walls (think with nuts and bolts — do consider your safety), possibly expanding upwards or outwards as needed.

Also, think about getting rid of books every now and again to help make space for new acquisitions. I know, I know, to some ears that will be heresy. But honestly, sometimes we just know we’re not going to read a book again, and library sales and charity shops are more than happy to take on well-treated secondhand books.

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Keep things organized. If you tend to have a long TBR or maybe receive a lot of ARCs, take notes when deliveries arrive. Try having a journal detailing the date of when new books came to your home, or of when you need to post the review by. Place sticky notes on or near your bookshelves or calendar, so that you don’t accidentally start reading this August release before finishing that July ARC.

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Do use bookmarks. Some readers don’t, and it’s really a personal preference, but dog-earing pages is just, well, bad. Infrequent readers tend to commit the even more heinous sin of leaving the book out, facedown on the page where they stopped. In the interest of keeping the binding intact for longer, please do not do this. (Some bookdragons will come after you, and they will not be happy.)

Bookmarks are easy to find for sale in bookstores and on websites. Libraries also often give them away. And you can honestly use old grocery lists or receipts as well (my husband uses index cards). Or you can make your own, if you’re craft-inclined.

If your issue is losing bookmarks, sticky notes will help with that. Or bookmarks with clips that attach them directly to the page.

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Don’t underestimate the power of the public library. Money needs to be spent on a million things other than new books. So, if you just don’t have a spare thousand dollars for all those new releases (and who does?), be patient, and within a few months, many of them will be available through your local library. (Don’t forget about inter-library loans as well. If where you live the library is simply the size of a postage stamp, requesting books from bigger libraries nearby is usually pretty easy and free.)

Take advantage of secondhand bookstores, online sales, and entering giveaways. Self-explanatory, really, when it comes to saving money.

Don’t request ARCs. If your problem is too many books waiting to be read, then reduce your future TBR by discontinuing your requests for advance copies of new releases. Many of us are beginning to feel that the cons of ARCs outweigh the benefits.

Limit what’s on your Kindle. If most of your TBR is physical (rather than digital) it’ll be much easier to keep track of, and trimmed to a healthy size.

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books, reading

Discussion: When Do Series Need To Stop?

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So, after having stated that I’m not doing any top 10 Tuesdays — because I’m truly not, I really don’t have the time right now — I’m still seeing other people’s pop up on their blogs (after all, it is — shocker, in case you weren’t aware — Tuesday).

Anyway, the theme for this week is “Series I mean to read but haven’t started yet.” As I checked out some of these posts, I saw a lot of series that are still anticipating further sequels — and in some instances, they’re already at book 4, 5, or 6. So, I thought it might be a good time to discuss this issue — when is it too much, and time for the author to wrap it up and move onto something else?

As the writer of a series myself, I see many benefits to determining ahead of time that I’m going to create a quartet. In my case, it will be 4 books following the major plot thread/main characters in this setting. (And I think “quartet” has a nice sophisticated sound to it.) I took the whole story and broke it into 4 separate parts, and determined a length limit on each individual novel (between 190 and 200 pages), so that someday they’ll all fit nicely into a limited edition box set, and each installment is not too much at once for the reader.

(Okay, maybe I should’ve switched the listing order of those priorities…)

But it’s the truth for many readers — when a series carries on too long (literally, in terms of years of publishing, and/or the length of each new book), we’re more likely to decide not to finish the series. We just get tired of waiting 2 years for the next sequel, or shelling out money for another 650 pages of continually deteriorating plot and character motivations.

And this is the other major problem — when a publisher insists that a series keep going, even when the story feels that it could have reached a natural conclusion one, two, even three books back, the writing begins to feel stale, trite, unnecessary.

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As a writer, this pains me to witness.

It’s the same as when TV shows keep producing episodes, even though the natural flow of the story died off 3, 4, 5 seasons ago. Or when a movie has just too many sequels. And we the readers/viewers, begin to wonder what the point is anymore, and it makes us sad, and even starts to eat away at the enjoyment we used to have for the whole thing.

Just me? No?

There is a huge benefit to declaring when there will be no more books. JK Rowling could have spent her entire career writing nothing other than Harry Potter (based on the money factor alone). But she established that after book 7, she would be done. Maybe a spinoff here or there (like the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts), but otherwise, no. And she has been apparently happy writing adult murder mysteries since then. So, good for her. I loved Harry Potter, and had a bit of a bookdragon hangover when I finished reading Deathly Hallows, but I also knew that Harry’s story had come to a conclusion, and I did respect the author’s choices, so had to suck it up.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I’m beginning to think that Americans in general don’t know when to stop.

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Part of the reason I gave up reading certain genres (I’m staring directly at mysteries and romance here) is the tendency for publishers to encourage authors to write for absolutely as long as the series makes money. Regardless of whether the characters still have life in them. It becomes too tedious to wade through.

I honestly don’t mind a favorite series coming to an end if it makes sense to the plot and character arcs. I’m mature about it. And quite frankly, the rest of us should be, too.

The other thing I’m beyond done with is living writers creating new spinoffs for characters written by authors who have been dead for decades. Seriously, folks, let Sherlock Holmes rest in peace, already! What in the seven hells was the point of adding zombies and sea monsters to the works of Jane Austen?! And really, Hollywood, you can’t come up with anything better than yet another remake?

This trend to “just keep going” makes me wonder if we also have an irrational fear of things ending.

Even one of my major favorites, Warriors, which has released new publications continually for the last several years, seems to be reaching its end. But this incredible world-building has certainly been thoroughly explored, and I feel that things would start to get too repetitive if the authors forced out any more 6-book arcs. So I don’t have an issue with it.

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As I see the advertisements for upcoming releases, I notice just how many of them belong to an established series. And I’m late to the party, and the idea of trying to catch up now is honestly draining.

So for the rest of this year, I think I’ll be hunting out more standalones, more indie authors, more set trilogies and duologies.

I’m sticking to my 4-volume completion of my original series, and then there will be spinoffs — but that’s because there’s a ton more in this world that I want to explore, using different characters, different settings, different time periods.

And that’s the whole crux of the biscuit — the entertainment market keeps pushing the same old, same old at the audience, who is clamoring for something different.

Just a few thoughts.

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books, reading

Top 10 Tuesday: Bookish Things That Make No Sense

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Warning: This will be a whiny post.

1. Putting stickers on covers that don’t easily peel off. This is a minor annoyance to most of the world who enjoys the text between the covers much more than anything else. However, to the devoted book dragon, we know that this is a smear on the art that is the cover of the book. Artists put time and effort and money into making the covers. So the least the stores can do is put on stickers that won’t wreck the art. (Yes, I mean that.)

2. Making sequels a different size than the original. Again, to the general public, this isn’t a big deal. They’ll determine that there was a reason at the printing press why this decision was made, and leave it at that. They may even simply turn the book on its spine (gasp!! the horror!!) to make sure it fits onto their shelf. But, for book dragons, doing this is just asking to make us cry. (Listen up, publishers…)

3. Comparing new titles to older, unrelated publications. “…for fans of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner!” “…the next Harry Potter…” “…if you loved The Lunar Chronicles…” We’ve all seen these claims. It’s nauseating. Sorry, folks, but it is anymore.

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4. Changing covers based on the country of printing. Whyyyy?? Especially when I don’t like the covers printed in my own country?!

5. Summaries on the jacket/back cover that don’t actually describe that story. Haven’t we all finished reading a book and thought, “Well, that wasn’t quite what I expected”? And we do have to wonder what was going on when whoever at the publisher wrote that blurb. Maybe they confused that title with another they’d just completed proofreading?

6. Summaries that give too much away. If I intend to read through the whole story in order to find out what happens at the end, then I don’t need the inside cover spilling the beans before I’ve even hit page 1.

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7. When bookshelves aren’t adjustable. You know how those bookcases are sold in kits, where you can assemble them yourself and determine how high each shelf should be? This is brilliant and perfect, because not all books are the same size. Any company that makes non-adjustable bookcases need book dragons to storm their HR department with a list of demands, er, design improvements.

8. When book merch is unaffordable. I am not sorry for the fact that I simply can’t afford tote bags with quotes, or mugs with character silhouettes. Would I like to own some of these things? Oh, yes. But unless stores drop their prices to something less than my grocery budget for the month, I will remain without.

9. The pricing of books. This is why I get so many new releases from the library. Since spare money is so hard to come by in my life, the thought of wasting it on a title I might not like really sticks in my craw. Aren’t we supposed to be encouraging literacy and learning — and yet, I regularly pass by the new hardcovers in Walmart for $25 and $30. These messages do not jam.

10. American-izing the Queen’s English. When a story is written by a British, Australian, Canadian or South African author, and they write it in their native dialect, leave it that way when you export it to other nations, publishers. Quit encouraging American readers to think that the whole world speaks the way you do. It’s not promoting education or tolerance, and it’s infuriating. (Sorry, but not sorry, there it is.)

Congratulations on making it to the end of the whine! Less mardy next time, I promise!

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blogging, books, Encouragement, reading

Reading Slumps

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What’s a reading slump? Only the most terrible thing in the world, ever, for a bookdragon. And yet, they are inevitable. Every now and again, you’ll realize that you just don’t feel like reading anything.

Your usual styles/authors/subjects just aren’t sparking interest. You feel terribly bored, or let down by a genre, or you simply crave something different, yet every new book you take a look at feels destined to fall flat.

Now that I’ve struck terror into the very depth of your souls…

Here are some ideas on how to get through a reading slump.

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Don’t push yourself too much. If you feel like you should be reading, there’s simply no need to feel that way. A major reason I’ve decided not to do ARCS is because I don’t want to be on a deadline and not inspired to read the work in question. Even as an author, someone who relies on volunteer reviewers getting a critique out in a timely manner, I still totally support bloggers who choose to limit the number of ARCS they include in their schedule.

Try something outside of your usual loves. If you tend to gravitate towards contemporaries, pick up a historical fiction. Not sure if steampunk is your thing? Give it a go. Never read a James Patterson or a Kristin Hannah? It’s what the library is for.

It’s actually okay not to read anything for a bit. Yes, you heard that right. If you go for a few days, or even a few weeks, without finishing that novel on your shelf that you started last year, truly, the world will not end, I promise.

Attempt a re-read. Not sure anymore what happened in book 5 of Harry Potter? Book 3 of Percy Jackson? Do you have Me Before You or A Monster Calls marked as “read it” on your Goodreads account, but you’re honestly not sure if you’re just thinking of the film versions now?

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Now, what about this dreaded prospect?: You’re a book blogger, so putting new content on your site kind of makes it necessary that you read new stuff. Well, in the event of a reading slump, I have you covered there, too.

Find a related topic to discuss. Like a trend in publishing that bugs you — like if there are dystopias everywhere, or road trip novels, but you’d really prefer to see an uptake in pirate stories or new sorts of mythological/legend re-tellings.

If you like to do tags, catch up on a few of those. Or join a weekly theme that doesn’t rely on recently completing a new read. Top 10 Tuesdays are usually good for this, because the theme often relates to books you’ve already finished.

Consider reviewing a book you read a long time ago that you decided not to review before. Maybe because it was a novel outside of your usual genre, or was it a biography, or a collection of poetry? There’s no rule about the type of reading we “have” to be reviewing.

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The most important thing to do is: don’t panic. It really is all right — and probably natural — to hit a reading slump. And it happens for all kinds of reasons — whether your life is busy, or the latest publishing trends just aren’t your thing, or even looking at a towering TBR makes you go, “Meh.”

One day, this will be over. I promise.

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